When Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany in 1939, its capitalist government couldn’t hold out for much more than a month. It packed up its tattered administration and fled to London. Left behind were the Polish people. It was these people, led by Communist activists and supplied by Soviet air drops, as well as through whatever weapons and material they could scrounge, who carried on the fight.
This struggle is portrayed well in the 1955 film A Generation, the product of screenwriter Bohdan Czeszko, whose script reflects his patriotism and class consciousness. It was directed by the famed Andrzej Wajda.
The film opens with three youths whiling away their hours with such boyish masculine pursuits as playing mumblety-peg in a railyard. When a Nazi supply train passes they are seized with the patriotic notion to leap aboard and toss down coal for the locals to scoop up. One of them is promptly shot dead by a soldier guarding the train. In this way the boys are thrust into the harsh reality that war is no kids’ game, but they are going to have to play it just the same.
The first thing they need to do is find someone who knows more about the discipline of resistance than they do. One of the young men, Stach, makes his way to a woodworking shop and hires on as an apprentice. It is there that he will meet a veteran Communist named Sekula.
Sekula has that sturdy build and friendly countenance that puts one at ease. He is full of confidence but completely lacking in arrogance. It’s a personality well known to working people and found in workplaces everywhere in the world. It is not long before he gives Stach some on the job lessons in surplus value on how the owners exploit the workers. Stach is soon asking how a worker can fight back, and Sekula can help him with that question too.
Attending school at night, Stach has a chance encounter with a young activist, her eyes blazing with fury as she bursts into the building where the classes are taking place. She exhorts the students to not simply wait for liberation, but actively engage in armed struggle against the Nazi occupiers. Stach is quickly motivated to find both the girl and the armed wing of the Polish Workers Party which will carry out the struggle against the Germans and their collaborators. He soon enters the world of clandestine meetings, dimly lit back rooms, false names and passwords.
Entering the unfamiliar world of combat, the young men and women must come to terms with their own self-doubt, inexperience, and courage. When the first member of the group carries out the assassination of a Nazi officer, it is well portrayed in a scene showing the gunman carrying out the action with a combination of rage, thrill, and then disgust at the sight of the bullet-ridden corpse.
The Second World War was a historic defeat for the forces of imperialist reaction, and A Generation nicely illustrates the role played by the Polish working class in this victory.
Photo: Wikipedia (CC)